Sunday, June 14, 2009

1.4: It's all about flexibility and pedagogical progress

The latest ALT Fortnightly News includes a link to a UK market research presentation entitled "Examining e-learning in higher education: Perceptions and reality". Apparently the results were used in a Times Higher Education story headlined "Questions of cost and usefulness dog e-learning".

The comments on the article make better reading than the column itself; it is clear that the author put a very unusual spin on the research findings. The survey is actually focused on the use of lecture-capture technologies, a rather small part of 'e-learning' as a whole. Additionally, one thing that does come out very clearly in the survey is that e-learning is perceived as primarily providing a more flexible education. This is to be applauded. That e-learning is not seeing many lectures placed online is also to be applauded!

E-learning, 'pedagogy empowered by digital technology', is concerned with far more than making lectures available outside of class time. Indeed, using e-learning for an online lecture-repository lacks a certain imagination and pedagogical progressivism and betrays a class- or teacher-centric orientation. The survey correctly identified that e-learning is concerned with flexibility; it is also concerned with new ways of teaching and learning. Derek Rowntree, many of whose books adorn my distance education shelf, comments thus on the article:
Putting lectures online is scarcely e-learning. It's just a new way of delivering the old forms of mass communication. For e-learning to be worth bothering with it needs to be interactive: it may enable students to interact with learning materials, e.g. medical students may be diagnosing a patient, deciding on what tests to make, responding to the results given them from those tests, and so on. But effective, interactive e-learning is not dependent on materials and certainly does not require them to be presented online. Instead it can work by enabling students to engage in discussion with tutors and one another about what they are learning (even from materials presented in print) and to collaborate in carrying out group learning activities. By such means e-learning students may learn more from one another than they can in much of today's over-crowded face-to-face teaching.

Well said.

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